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West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for February 25, 2009

Can you believe it? The state tournament is finally upon us! Whether you’re a “seasoned veteran” such as I am or looking forward to your first experience, either as a wrestler, family member, or fan, you’re bound to get butterflies in your stomach just thinking about it.

When I think about the 448 wrestlers who will step on the mats Thursday evening, I wonder how many of them will be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the tournament. For those wrestlers who’ve never qualified for the state tournament nor wrestled in a big bracketed tournament such as the WSAZ or OVAC, the mere sight of eight mats spread out over the floor of the Big Sandy Superstore Arena will definitely call up the butterflies if they haven’t yet started their fluttering.

Among the many things I love about the state tournament, one is the fact that every team finally gets to compete against the other teams in its division. Doc Miller racks his brain on a weekly basis during the season to come up with individual and team rankings on which the coaches can agree (or disagree). During the course of the season, several teams and individuals will meet up with one another, but they don’t all come together until now. The “official rankings” – the only ones that ultimately count – are the 168 guys who get to stand on the podium and the final scores on the scoreboard after the smoke has cleared and the large lady has sung her proverbial song.

One thing the coaches have agreed on is who the teams are to beat. Oak Glen (AA/A) and Parkersburg South (AAA) have consistently been ranked #1 in their respective divisions all season long with little or no opposition.

Although Oak Glen and Parkersburg South are the favorites, one must realize that when it comes to the state tournament, anything can and will happen! The beauty of wrestling is that it’s every bit as much an individual sport as it is a team sport. Injuries and upsets always make an appearance, unfortunately, and sometimes one wrestler’s fate (whether it’s good or bad) can result in a big momentum shift for his team.

The battle to unseat 12-time Champions Oak Glen in the AA/A division will most definitely be an uphill one, but this seems to be the year that at least a couple of teams think if things go their way, they might just snatch the crown out of its seemingly permanent residence in Hancock County and bring it downstate. Point Pleasant and Calhoun County have had outstanding seasons, winning several tournaments apiece and splitting a couple in which they both competed. Point won their own tournament back in December, but Calhoun got some revenge by way of a 2-point victory in last weekend’s Region 4 tournament and crowned seven individual champions, giving them a definite first round advantage this weekend. However, Point Pleasant fans will argue that their team has a tremendous amount of depth. Both teams are excellent tournament teams and have proven themselves throughout the season by winning major tournaments. This could be one of the best AA/A battles in several years.

The AAA teams might have an even tougher task of taking the title over pre-tournament favorite Parkersburg South. After a dominating performance in their regional tournament that saw them outdistance Runner-Up Wheeling Park by 99.5 points and place all 14 wrestlers in the championship finals, South looks like the team to beat. The question is what teams will finish in the top five.

Wheeling Park edged out John Marshall by just two points to take second in Region 1, but the Monarchs qualified more wrestlers for this weekend. The two northern teams will face perhaps their biggest challenge in Region 2 Champions East Fairmont, the favorite to take runner-up honors. East is known for their individual stars, four of whom are returning state champions. But there are a few other teams who would like to upset the apple cart and very well just may. The top team from Region 3, Ripley, boasts a combination of experienced veterans and talented youth, which could boost them as high as third or second. Region 4 Champions Cabell Midland and Runners-Up George Washington battled it out at their regional tournament, with 13 points separating the two teams. Both teams are bringing 13 wrestlers each to Huntington and will do their best to challenge for a top-three finish.

For those teams not in the title hunt, there is always the promise of individual glory for their wrestlers. For some, placing in the top six is the goal, for others, it’s a state title. For others still, it’s the opportunity to repeat as a state champion.

While we won’t see any four-time state champions crowned this year, Calhoun’s Cody Clark will be looking to win his third straight title as a junior and keep himself on target to become Calhoun County’s first four-time state champion. Other wrestlers aiming to bring home their third straight title are Wheeling Park’s Dirk Bauer (who won his first title wrestling for Wheeling Central) and Grafton’s Cameron Gallaher.

Gallaher has won 125 matches over the past three years without a loss and is one of four undefeated wrestlers entering this year’s state tournament. Josh Fisher of Roane County, Ben Laughlin of Calhoun County, and Jake Justice of Independence will try to keep their perfect records in tact in the quest for a state title. While a state title would be the first for Laughlin, Fisher and Justice are looking to repeat as state champions.

Other wrestlers looking to stand atop the podium once again in the AA/A division are Ryan Asbury of Oak Glen, Sonny Harrah of Shady Spring, John King of Philip Barbour, Rusty Maness of Point Pleasant, Alec Peer of Frankfort, and Brad Reed of Berkeley Springs. Unfortunately, some will not be able to repeat as champions. Asbury and Peer are both in the 125-pound weight class, Clark and Reed are both in the 130-pound weight class, and Harrah and King are both in the 135-pound weight class. And to make matters worse, Asbury and Peer are both in the same bracket!

That brings me to my only beef about the state tournament (other than the fact that I don’t get to bed at 8:30 like I normally do yet still wake up before 4:30). It’s the pill method used to bracket the tournament. I’ve worn a spot in my soapbox from standing on it too long talking about how I think we should do away with the regional tournaments, seed the top eight according to the coaches’ polls, use a 32-man bracket for each division (with pigtails when necessary), and let everyone wrestle! But I digress…

Wrestlers in the AAA division who hope to repeat as state champions are East Fairmont’s “Fab Four” - Hunter Wood, Drew Jenkins, Eric Morris, and Mason Bailey, Wheeling Park’s Nick Taylor, and Dylan Nick, who hopes to become the first state champion from the new Washington High School. Nick won his first title wrestling for Jefferson last year but transferred to Washington for his junior season.

Bailey, Gallaher, Justice, and Peer won their fourth straight regional titles last Saturday. In addition, Huntington’s Ronnie Luther joins the elite group as a four-time regional champion.

Winning his first regional tournament Saturday was George Washington’s 160-pound senior standout Ryan Shank. With two wins at the state tournament, Shank will become the first wrestler from George Washington to win over 30 matches in all four years of high school competition. He is also the Patriots’ first four-time state qualifier and is making his mark in school history alongside GW legend Mark Samples.

In addition to the wrestlers mentioned in the previous two paragraphs, several other wrestlers have qualified for the state tournament all four years. Listed by school, they are:

Brad Reed – Berkeley Springs
Sean Gungle – Calhoun County
Drew Jenkins and Eric Morris – East Fairmont
Chris Swisher – Elkins
Joe Shaw – Fairmont Senior
Vernon Farrell and Anthony Shillingburg - Fayetteville
Brian Gray – Greenbrier West
Billy Forquer – Hedgesville
Matt Rector – Herbert Hoover
Jacob Dempsey - Huntington
Jake Justice and Mike Prince – Independence
Jared Weatherholtz - Musselman
Matt Tennant – North Marion
Ryan Asbury and Troy Eckleberry – Oak Glen
Andy Church – Parkersburg South
Dustin Kimble – Petersburg
John King – Philip Barbour
Jared Searls and Eric Veith – Point Pleasant
Justin Fisher – Roane County
Zane Satterfield – Robert C. Byrd
Victor Panico - University
Dirk Bauer and Nick Taylor – Wheeling Park
Chris Sodosky – Woodrow Wilson

I’d like to give a final shout out to first-time qualifier and Region 1 Champion Sam Gilmore of John Marshall. Gilmore won by injury default over South’s David McCoy in the 215-pound final last weekend.

The first time I saw Sam wrestle was at the 2006-07 Wheeling Park Duals. John Marshall and Parkersburg South were in a very tight match and it was literally coming down to the heavyweight match. Sam was a backup wrestler to 215-pounder Taylor Potts and heavyweight Paden Morris. Due to the tight score, Potts was the obvious choice to wrestle at 215, but when it came time to put someone in at heavyweight, Head Coach Ted Zervos had to do some quick thinking. With his team only ahead by 6 points going into the heavyweight match, he had to make a decision. Heavyweight Paden Morris had a better chance of beating South’s Zach Hanson, but there was a risk that Hanson could pin Morris and tie the match. On the other hand, Gilmore might not win the match, but it was almost a sure thing that he would not get pinned, because “Sam never got pinned”. Zervos gave Gilmore the nod and he survived a 5-1 loss, allowing his team to walk away with a 34-31 victory. At the end of the match, his teammates all gave Sam a hero’s reception, which I’m sure became one of his fondest wrestling memories to date.

So here’s to Sam Gilmore for going from “the kid who doesn’t get pinned” to "Regional Champion"!

Here’s also to safe travels, good sportsmanship, healthy wrestlers, minimal injuries, and of course, butterflies! And trust me, no matter how old you are or how many times you return to the state tournament, the butterflies will always make the trip with you!

Contact Jenny Sullivan at sullivj2@ohio.edu

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